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Latest Home Office statistics show Vietnamese nationals are the government’s likely next target

The Home Office has published its latest “ad hoc” statistics release, showing a dramatic increase in the number of Vietnamese people coming to the UK and a 24% increase in people detected crossing the Channel so far in 2024. The statistics were published to support the Prime Minister’s speech in relation to the Rwanda Bill on Monday. The last such release was also produced to support one of his speeches.

Increase in Vietnamese nationals crossing the Channel

The increase has been driven by people arriving from Vietnam. In 2024, Vietnamese have overtaken Afghans as the highest number of people making the journey across the Channel. As a result of this increase, the government has signed an agreement with Vietnam “to increase cooperation on tackling illegal migration and stop Vietnamese people risking their lives by crossing the English Channel”. The statement said that the agreement will “continue a successful returns process for illegal migrants from the UK to their home country”.

It is useful to look at the 2023 statistics for some context. In 2023 there were 116 returns to Vietnam and in 2022 there were 237 (table Ret_D02). In 2023 there were 2,211 main applicants from Vietnam, up from 1,004 in 2022 (table Asy_D01). In 2022 there were 551 grants of refugee status to people from Vietnam and in 2023 this was 759 (table Asy_D02). In 2023 there were 1,792 withdrawals of Vietnamese asylum claims, up from 312 in 2022 (table Asy_D02).

The modern slavery statistics show that for 2023 the two most common nationalities identified as potential victims of trafficking, after British nationals, were Vietnamese and Albanian. Both these nationalities can be recognised as refugees after establishing that they have been trafficked.

In December 2023 the Home Office published a new country policy information note on victims of trafficking from Vietnam. A comparison of the old and new versions shows that the note has been substantially revised. I have not gone through those changes in detail, but it is useful to remember that a very similar process took place with Albania, where a joint agreement between Albania and the UK signed in December 2022 was shortly followed by a new country and policy information note on trafficking that was criticised even by Home Office staff.

It does not seem too far-fetched to say that this is all part of a concerted effort to ensure that fewer Vietnamese victims of trafficking are recognised as such and granted refugee status, as has been done with Albanians.

People from very high grant countries continue to arrive via the Channel

From April 2023 to 21 April 2024 31,909 people have been detected crossing the Channel (table IMB_01a). As a direct result of the lack of safe alternatives, of those making the journey over this period 5,897 are Afghans (grant rate 99%), 2,964 Eritreans (grant rate 99%), 2,744 Syrians (grant rate 99%) and 1,898 Sudanese (grant rate 98%). They and anyone else who has arrived since 7 March 2023 are currently prohibited from a grant of leave.

Backlog clearance

The total asylum backlog has reduced slightly since December 2023 however it increased from 88,525 towards the end of February 2024 to 89,107 in March 2024. By mid-April this had reduced again to 83,154.

Decision making has slowed down considerably now that the artificial deadline of 31 December 2023 set by the prime minister has passed. In the last three months of 2023 well over 15,000 decisions were made each month. In January 2024 this was 8,088, in February 9,749 and in March 9,414 decisions were made.

Despite the prime minister having claimed in January this year that the pre-28 June 2022 backlog of cases had been cleared, at 14 April 2024 this still stood at 2,377.   

The Nationality and Borders Act backlog has been reduced from 38,467 on 31 December 2023 to 7,358 on 14 April 2024 (table IMB_02). The Illegal Migration Bill backlog has reduced by just over 1,000 cases from 22,444 to 21,313. I still think this reduction is most likely to be children, however the Home Office recently indicated that decision making for this cohort would be starting next month.

The Illegal Migration Act backlog, which is where new arrivals are placed, has increased from 33,309 on 31 December 2023 to 51,926 on 14 April 2024. This means that the number of applications awaiting a decision where a grant of leave is largely prohibited under the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is now at 73,239.

In their latest briefing paper “Cost, chaos and human misery – the impact of the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda Plan”, Refugee Council has estimated that, in what looks like a best case scenario for the government, i.e. where they have managed to send 2,000 people to Rwanda, there will be 93,931 people stuck in permanent limbo at the end of 2024 as a result of the use of the inadmissibility process.

People accommodated in hotels

The summary page of the statistics says that the number of hotels used as asylum accommodation “has decreased from 398 on 22 October 2023 to 267 on 7 April 2024.” No data was provided on the number of people who are still in hotels. At 31 December 2023 this was at 45,768 and we are told in the latest figures only that the number has decreased between January and April 2024. What is unclear is how much of this decrease has been achieved through the horribly named “Operation Maximise” which is about forcing traumatised people to share a small hotel room with a stranger.


It is so hard to pick out the lowest of the low when it comes to the government’s treatment of those seeking safety here. But the continued targetting of those who are refugees because of the risk they face of being re-trafficked in their country of origin is certainly right down there. All of those who work with Vietnamese nationals need to be on high alert given what we have seen the government do to Albanians.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.


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